What Are the Palestinians Planning after September?

, July 4, 2011

Vol. 11, No. 7    July 4, 2011

  • What the Palestinians really envisage after September is to exploit a UN endorsement of statehood to legitimize an escalation of the conflict. After having the 1967 lines recognized so as to negate the results of the Six-Day War, they plan to seek recognition of the 1947 partition lines.

  • There are signs that the long period of quiet since the Second Intifada is going to end after September or just before it, and that Abbas’ Fatah organization is already preparing for the “Third Intifada.” Ahmad Abu Ruteima, a Hamas activist in Gaza, describes the objective of the Third Intifada: “The struggle is about the very existence of Israel and not about the 1967 borders. The defense minister, Ehud Barak, confirmed that the [Israeli] army is incapable of confronting a human influx from all directions.”

  • The post-September scenarios discussed in the upper Fatah echelons involve a return to the struggle. A senior member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, Hatem Abd al-Qader, noted that in case Israel obstructs the Palestinians’ political plans, Abbas will step down, the PA will dissolve itself, and nothing will prevent the Palestinians from returning to the struggle. And even if elections are held, the new president will come from the younger generation, abolish the Oslo agreements, and lead the Palestinians back to the struggle.

  • Why does the PLO so adamantly refuse any discussion of swaps between the Palestinian-populated areas in the Israeli Triangle region and the settlement blocs. The PLO, apparently, wants to leave the Palestinian-populated areas in Israel as an anchor for pushing Israel back to the 1947 borders or even further, as the territorial basis for exercising the right of return into Israel.

  • In his New York Times article, Abbas was straightforward: “Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”

The official Palestinian position is that the preferred option is to return to negotiations, but as long as Israel refuses to confirm the principle of the 1967 lines with agreed swaps as the basis for a final settlement, the Palestinians have no alternative but to unilaterally apply to the United Nations for recognition as a full member state along those borders. In a speech to a Geneva Initiative conference in May, Palestinian negotiator Dr. Saeb Erekat strongly emphasized the 1967 lines as the crux of a solution.1

For the most part, the international community is tired of the unending Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the prospect of the United Nations “ending” it in September by recognizing Palestinian statehood is appealing to many. Moreover, many in the international community consider a solution based on the 1967 borders to be fair.

Hence, the PLO’s declared policy of seeking UN recognition in September has gathered international support and encouragement and challenged Israeli diplomacy as never before. A key point that makes the Palestinian position so attractive is the simple notion that the future Palestinian state will suffice with the 1967 borders and immediately engage in peace negotiations to end the conflict. The tired world is happy to hear that finally a Palestinian state will come into being and, as a “peace-loving state” – as required for state membership in the United Nations – will engage in peace and not in war or conflict.

If that was really the case, and the application for statehood was aimed at completing peace negotiations on a “state-to-state” footing, this would have been a reasonable course of action deserving all possible support.2 However, if one studies the details of what the Palestinians really envisage after September, serious doubts arise. What they are actually planning is the opposite: to exploit a UN endorsement of statehood in order to legitimize an escalation of the conflict while destabilizing the entire Middle East during a critical period when the region is already agitated.

The Palestinians do not want to declare a state, but, rather, to leave the conflict open. After having the 1967 lines recognized so as to negate the results of the Six-Day War, they plan to seek recognition of the 1947 partition lines and thereby end the refugee problem – while attempting to inflict economic losses on Israel by suing it for “occupation damages,” suing IDF officers on war crimes charges, causing civil war in Israel over settler evacuation, and creating strife between Israel and the United States to the extent of ending their historical special relationship, if possible.

That is what the Palestinians are planning. Can they carry it out? Probably not;3 the plans are too large and presumptuous for them. Nevertheless, it is crucial to be aware of this far-reaching scheme.

The 1947 Borders

The most striking phenomenon in the internal Palestinian discourse is the revival of the 1947 UN partition plan.4 With the PLO declaring that the September move involves enshrining the 1967 lines, why is so much attention being given to the 1947 lines?

The answer can be found in PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas’ recent New York Times op-ed.5 Abbas ignited the anger of the Israeli government in what it called a distortion of history. His description of the 1947 events ran counter to recorded history as Israel knew it: whereas Abbas claimed that only Israel received its share of the partition plan, then attacked the Palestinians and expelled them, Israel recalled the fact that the Palestinians and the Arabs rejected the plan and attacked Israel, and Palestinians fled the country as a result of a war their side had initiated.6

Abbas, however, is no historian, and he did not write the article as a historical thesis but as a statesman who has a claim. His claim is that, with the United Nations having given Israel its share of the partition plan, it is now the Palestinians’ turn to get their share. Thus, even before the United Nations has recognized the 1967 lines as borders, the PLO is raising the claim for the 1947 borders.

Does it make sense? Yes. The Palestinians’ answer to the Israeli demand to be recognized as a Jewish state is that the UN partition plan already recognized a Jewish state along the borders of 1947.7

Normally, the leaders of new states declare their independence from their home territory, and only go to the UN in

About Pinhas Inbari

Pinhas Inbari is a veteran Arab affairs correspondent who formerly reported for Israel Radio and Al Hamishmar newspaper, and currently serves as an analyst for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.